Tri-Five Nationals – Third Time’s a Charm
2700 cars. Three years. One manufacturer. The reality of the Tri-Five Nationals at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky is mind boggling and awe-inspiring at the same time. It is the largest gathering of Tri-Five Chevys on the planet and if year three was any indication of its momentum, it will only get bigger next year.
For those three people who are unfamiliar with the term “Tri-Five,” it is used to describe the three-year span of cars built from 1955 to 1957, by Chevrolet. The “shot heard round the world” was the hot new V8 engine in the 1955 Chevy, that arguably sparked a new era in performance.
The cars quickly found success both on the racetracks and showroom floors, and by 1957, with the introduction of an exotic new fuel injection system, Chevy was king. Their resounding legacy continues to this day, and a red 1957 Chevy is about as iconic and American as apple pie and baseball. Five year olds to 95 year olds know what a ‘57 Chevy is.
The Tri-Fives also have a dedicated following because they are a genre unto themselves. They are not street rods, they are not street machines, and they are not muscle cars, nor customs – though they can be built in any style. The three-year window of escalating performance and a new “square bodied” design put them in a class of themselves.
The American Tri-Five Association was started at the inaugural Tri-Five Nationals in 2015 as a network to connect enthusiasts and pool resources. It was created by Woody’s Hot Rodz founder Chris Sondles. Sondles grew up with Tri-Five fever and cultivated Woody’s into a world-class hot rod shop that offers “factory replacement” tri-five bodies, licensed by Chevrolet Performance.
The Tri-Five Nationals became a reality three years ago. Starting in 2015, they celebrated the ‘55 Chevy. The ‘56 was the star of the 2016 event and this year’s festivities paid homage to the ‘57. Next year they will celebrate all things 55-57 Chevy as an annual event is now planned, and their main signature sponsor is Danchuk – a manufacturer of replacement and restoration parts exclusively for Tri-fives.
As an event feature, a car of the celebrated year is given away to one lucky winner on Saturday. This year’s “All American” ‘57 Chevy gasser was as cool as a car can get, and went home to Maine with Australian-born Fiano Guzzo.
In addition to a record number of cars, there were 92 vendors, a massive swap meet, a live DJ taking requests, after hour’s parties, and drag racing. Exhibition gassers and Pro-Mods blazed the asphalt in front of the signature covered grandstands of Beech Bend Raceway. As an added treat, Jeff Lutz of the TV show Street Outlaws unveiled a brand new ‘57 Chevy race car and ran his maiden track passes on-site. It was quick and it was fast, with top-notch workmanship throughout.
The car show portion of the event is just as exciting with judges selecting the Top 25 cars of the event on Friday. They are parked in a special parking area on Saturday, and the event’s Top 5 are selected by ballot – from the owners of the Top 25 cars. Picked by their peers, the Top 5 cars made their way to Saturday’s Awards Show where the Top Tri-Five of the Year was picked. This has quickly become the tri-five community’s equivalent to the Ridler or AMBR. It’s their highest accolade and a very special selection. This year’s winner was the flawless black ‘55 Chevy of Matt Martinez from Colorado.
After the Saturday Awards Show the fun continued into the night with the Be Cool After Party and fun runs by participants on the drag strip until 9pm.
The Tri-Five Nationals has quickly grown into a “must do” event, and if you are a fan, you need to check it out. Even if you are not a devout follower, the sight of nearly three thousand tri-fives in one place is a sight to behold. Enjoy the photos, and we’ll see you next year, the second weekend in August.